Editor’s Note: Mar Lee uses they/them/their pronouns.
On Nov. 15, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced the members of its Campuswide Collaborative on Sexual Misconduct.
Professor of educational psychology Susan Swearer chairs the collaborative, which is divided into three groups: prevention and education; intervention; and policy, procedures and practices. Swearer said each group contains experts in that respective field, and the groups will conduct surveys and interviews to form their feedback by May 15, 2020.
None of the 45 members of the committee are members of Dear UNL, the group of students who have advocated for survivors of sexual misconduct at UNL, but any UNL student is invited to raise their concerns through the Title IX Student Coalition, which will be made up entirely of students.
Both the student group and the collaborative have one overarching goal: to create a healthy campus climate.
“We’ve got very dedicated people who are committed to making sure that UNL is certainly following the best practices, but ultimately, being a leader in this area nationally,” Swearer said.
The collaborative will consider Title IX, the federal statutes that dictate how federally-funded universities across the country must conduct investigations related to discrimination and sexual misconduct.
UNL’s Institutional Equity and Compliance, also commonly referred to as the Title IX Office, does not advocate on behalf of the complainant but gathers facts so the office can take action to keep the campus community safe, according to Title IX coordinator Tami Strickman.
Dear UNL and the collaborative
Dear UNL member Mar Lee said they were elected to represent the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska in the collaborative. However, Lee said they have been denied the position because of their status as a survivor of sexual assault.
Lee had been elected by the ASUN senate to be a representative but indirectly heard they will not be on the committee, despite not hearing anything from the committee’s co-chairs.
“[It’s] absolutely heartbreaking because I really thought that for once survivors of sexual violence, we're going to be able to have a voice on UNL's campus,” Lee said. “And we're just being silenced again, by being barred from this committee.”
The Title IX Student Coalition
According to UNL spokesperson Leslie Reed, the collaborative does not include people who have been complainants in a Title IX-related case at UNL because the collaborative would then also need to include people who have been respondents.
In order to include more student voices in the collaborative and include complainants and respondents, ASUN President Emily Johnson will co-chair the Title IX Student Coalition with Swearer. The coalition will have open applications, be comprised of about 30 students and include the same three working groups as the collaborative, according to Johnson.
She said open applications will remove any conflict of interest, since both survivors and respondents can technically be on the coalition.
Additionally, Johnson said each of the subgroups in the coalition will have a student who is on that same group in the collaborative, serving as a liaison between the two.
“With the collaborative, it’s already massive,” she said. “They want more students to be on it, but if you keep adding more and more people, it gets to a point where it’s too big to carry out its mission … [The coalition] brings on an additional 30 student voices that wouldn’t get to be heard otherwise.”
Lee said they believe there needs to be a place for those who’ve been through the Title IX Office on the collaborative, as they know best what’s wrong with the process and how to improve it.
“These decisions that are being made by the committee will directly affect survivors of sexual violence,” Lee said. “It would only make sense that they would have representation and have a voice, especially those who have dealt with the trauma and process and understand where it's flawed and why and how.”
Luz Sotelo, a Dear UNL member and vice president of student affairs for the Graduate Student Assembly, said she was also supposed to be a representative on the committee. Sotelo said she was chosen by GSA to be the representative because it falls under her position, regardless of her status as a survivor.
Like Lee, Sotelo said she has reached out to the collaborative’s chairs but hasn’t heard back. She said it’s concerning to see a lack of representation by survivors and student government.
“I really don't think that this committee will be effective,” she said. “And, I mean, to be quite frank, I think that it is likely going to be a waste of resources, unless the people who are most knowledgeable about the process are included.”
The past, present and future
People across UNL’s campus are affected by the current Title IX guidelines. According to Strickman, the guidelines have changed since she arrived on campus, and they’re likely to change again. Earlier this year, the federal government received more than 100,000 comments on the U.S. Secretary of Education’s proposed changes to how an investigation is conducted, according to The Washington Post.
Since August 2018, UNL has changed, too. UNL did not renew its contract with victim advocacy group Voices of Hope so it could hire a full-time victim advocate. UNL administration has also met with Dear UNL several times since last spring and formed the collaborative to give feedback on the current system.
“I feel like there’s a lot of positive energy,” Swearer said. “Everybody recognizes that this is a hugely important issue. It’s an issue … that affects most of us. So, I think people feel pretty passionate about wanting to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can.”
Editors’ Note: If you or someone you know has had an experience with the Title IX office you’d like to share with The Daily Nebraskan, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a Title IX series. Click here for a table of contents.